Behind Enemy Lines Part I

The Raiders will try to salvage what's left of their season by trying to throw a wrench into the playoff hopes of the New England Patriots. Jon Scott of PatriotsInsider.com takes a look at some of the issues facing the Patriots in SBI's latest installment of Behind Enemy Lines.

1) Do the Patriots still expect to have Matt Cassel playing and what are the contingency plans if he's not available? If Cassel does play will he be able to do it with a clear head?



JS: Cassel will play. He took some time off after learning that his father had passed away, but now that he's back with the team, he should start on Sunday. Services for Cassel's father Greg are set for Monday. If Cassel weren't able to go the Patriots would be in serous trouble. They'd be starting over with another player who hadn't seen any regular season action since college; either Kevin O'Connell or Matt Gutierrez.



2) Did it simply take the Patriots longer than expected to get over losing Tom Brady?



JS: It's hard to say if they're really over losing Tom Brady. The Pittsburgh meltdown is a classic example that Cassel is still growing as a starting quarterback in the NFL. Had Brady started all season, or even that one game, a lot of the crazy blitz pressure Cassel caved to would have been burned by Brady's quick reaction and adjustments. The team has suffered so many injuries on defense that it's surprising they can keep games close. Last season Brady enjoyed a defense that remained relatively healthy and could find ways to keep the team in it. This year, when the offense misfires, the defense is so banged up they have a hard time controlling the other team's offense.



3) Does this game mean any more to Randy Moss than the others because of what went on with him while he was in Oakland and how his situation with the Raiders ended?



JS: I don't think you'll see Randy say much before the game. Since he's been here, he's learned the Patriot mantra of keeping the mouth shut and letting his play on the field speak for him. Certainly the way Moss' tenure in Oakland will play an emotional part for him to deal with, but that's something he's more likely to share with teammates behind closed doors than with those of us in the media. You know a win will ring a big smile to his face.



4) Zach Miller has been Oakland's most consistent and reliable threat offensively. Are the Patriots content to cover him with a linebacker or will they drop a safety down to help out?



JS: The Patriots have a pair of linebackers who are much much faster than the ones who played for New England in the past. Jerod Mayo and Gary Guyton have amazing speed for players their size. New England put Guyton on Ricky Williams when he came out of the backfield, and they asked Mayo to switch off onto the tight end against the Jets. Junior Seau also tried covering the tight end for Seattle, and that wasn't exactly perfect. Fans can expect the Patriots to use a combination of coverages to slow down the tight end. Dallas Clark had his last solid game against New England managing 4 catches for 60 yards. In that game the Patriots used a combination of linebacker under and safety over the top coverage. But Clark is in the league of Antonio Gates and Jason Whitten (game changers). So they would typically receive higher priority than Miller. Still, if Miller starts to get some attention, expect the Patriots to rotate coverage to take away that option.



5) Oakland's offensive line has been terrible in terms of pass protection. That being the case, will New England load up on the blitz to get after QB JaMarcus Russell or are they more concerned about the Raiders' running game?



JS: New England is horrible on third down defense. They typically play too soft against the run early, allowing teams to convert shorter third downs. If the scouting report indicates that Oakland can't pass protect, then the Patriots may bring an extra linebacker or corner blitz to try to create a turnover. New England really isn't a corner blitz or safety blitz kind of defense. They've had to dial it up recently because they've lost just about anyone who started the season as a defender and they're playing with backups of backups in some positions.

Expect to see Junior Seau,Gary Guyton or one of the outside backers bring pressure on Russell. If New England can get there with their front three and a linebacker, that's ideally what they want to do to protect a suspect secondary.



6) How much of a benefit has it been for the Patriots to practice in Northern California this week instead of flying back home after their Seattle game?



JS: Four games on the west coast is a really big deal for the Patriots who have never had to do that. The cross country traveling the NFL requires isn't helping anyone in the NFL. The fact that they scheduled back-to-back trips for New England lessens the adjustment factor, but it's still a pain in the ass for teams, not just New England. The hospitality exhibited by San Jose State has been a key in keeping the Patriots as well adjusted as possible away from home. The good fortune New England had in beating Seattle, might carry over to this week's game against the Raiders if you look at the momentum factor. The Patriots still had to get on a flight to fly from Seattle to the bay area to practice at a facility that's not their own. Last time New England played back-to-back west coast teams, the lost the second game against the Chargers. We'll see on Sunday if the familiarity of that preparation helped this time.


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